MARTIN, Ky. — Kelly Martin Hicks, executive director of Youth Go, has been bringing teens to Kentucky for spring break since 2006. Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) hosts YouthFest annually as an alternative to traditional spring break options. Hicks is no stranger to serving families in need in Appalachia. After graduating from the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota, she spent two years as a volunteer at the Rockcastle Youth and Teen Center and summers serving at Camp AJ.
Antone Clohessy (left) and Caden Klatt (right) with YouthGo in Neenah, Wis. cut tar paper to apply to a handicap accessible ramp to prevent falls.
“I knew when I left my position at the Rockcastle Teen and Youth Center that I had found what I loved,” Hicks said. “Youth Go was the next step of a journey that started with my experiences at CAP. I knew that this felt like what I was supposed to do with my life.”
The students from Youth Go in Neenah, Wis. were joined by Sullivan, Ind. high schoolers from Crossroads Community Church. They worked on housing projects for the elderly which included building access ramps and replacing windows and doors on substandard homes.
“We continue to bring young people on this trip because it takes them out of their comfort zones,” said Hicks. “YouthFest gives them the opportunity to see what a tremendous difference they can make in the life of a stranger with just their hearts and their hands.”
Over the years, Hicks and her husband, Drew, have introduced more than 50 students from Youth Go to Eastern Kentucky and many of those teens have participated in the trip multiple times. Their group has worked with food distribution, installed new windows, cleaned up Camp AJ, mounted siding, engaged in yard work, painted homes, laid new flooring, and built decks and wheelchair ramps.
“We wanted to give our youth an experience that would impact them,” Hicks said. “When we came for the first time, they had such a great experience that they went back and told everyone about their time here.”
Amanda Evers was one of those students. She attended YouthFest with Youth Go as a teenager and returned this year as an adult volunteer.
“I absolutely wanted to come back,” Evers said. “I hadn’t really travelled outside of Wisconsin as a teen and I didn’t really understand what people were dealing with. Now, as a single mother with two children, I see how life can happen so fast. You can’t prepare for disaster – everything can change in an instant. So now this experience is even more relatable.”
Hicks will continue to bring Youth Go teens to YouthFest. She has found her passion and continues to awaken that passion in another generation of young people from Neenah.
“These experiences change the perspective our teenagers have about wants and needs,” Hicks said. “That’s why we do it – to give them an opportunity to have their eyes opened. There is so much more that they achieve beyond working on projects. They get to connect the dots about poverty and how individuals can make a difference.”